The Games in London saw some extraordinary feats of human endeavour. This is especially true in the case of athletes who have lost a limb, yet can achieve things many able-bodied people can’t. People who have lost a limb may face a number of difficulties and one of the most bizarre is pain in their missing limb.
The phantom limb…
Phantom limb is the sensation that an amputated or missing limb, or even an organ, is still attached to the body. In some cases people feel as if their missing limb is gesturing, itchy or even trying to pick things up. People have reported sensations such as water trickling down the phantom limb, or a phantom ring becoming too tight for a phantom finger. And in the majority of cases this sensation is painful.
Neuroscientists think the problem could be caused by the brain rewiring itself incorrectly after the loss of the limb. The brain receives lots of sensory messages from the body. Once a set of these sensory inputs is lost, the brain has to rewire itself, and this is where the trouble can start.
Vilayanur Ramachandran is studying how to trick the brain into correcting this wiring problem and therefore relieving the pain. He uses a mirror box to fool the brain into thinking the limb is still there.
However, new technologies may provide a more hi-tech way to trick the brain.
Play your way to less pain…
Games have come a long way since I played Super Mario Bros. on my Game Boy.
Computer scientist Steve Pettifer, from the University of Manchester, has paired up with pain medicine consultant Ilan Lieberman to create an immersive virtual reality that allows people to move virtual limbs, gradually rewiring the mismatch between the mind and body. In the future, people could be able to access this virtual world from the comfort of their living room using an Xbox Kinect.
We have one of these setups for Pain Less.